On July 2, the Verkhovna Rada by what looked like a routine vote approved the appointment of Vasyl Hrytsak as the Head of the State Security Bureau otherwise known as SBU. The candidate proposed by President Petro Poroshenko was met with surprisingly unanimous approval of 340 votes in favor. In contrast, the Parliament's vote to dismiss Hrytsak's predecessor Valentyn Nalyvaychenko didn't go anywhere near as smoothly. It took the head of state great efforts to gather enough votes. In fact, this dismissal nearly created a split among the ranks of president's Parliamentary faction.
For many Nalyvaychenko's dismissal came as a surprise. The president himself struggled to provide a coherent explanation why he suddenly felt the need to change the head of SBU. In reality the only reason behind this move was Poroshenko's desire to have an executive completely loyal to him in charge of the Security Service. Whereas Nalyvaychenko's First Deputy Vasyl Hrytsak had been appointed by Poroshenko after his election in May 2014, and was practically not accountable to the head of SBU, who had been in charge of the body since after the Maidan.
It is hard to find any other realistic reasons for swapping Valentyn Nalyvaychenko with Vasyl Hrytsak. Had the president been unhappy with the performance of the SBU, it would make sense to replace its entire leadership. Lustration in the SBU ranks wouldn't go amiss either, but there seems to be no rush to conduct it. Moreover the people in charge of the most corrupt departments within the SBU remain at their positions or have even been promoted.
It is no secret that after Poroshenko had become president Nalyvaychenko was rendered little more than a figurehead. Both his deputies – the Head of the Anti-Corruption Department Andriy Artiukhov and the Head of the Anti-Terrorism Centre (ATC) Vasyl Hrytsak – have been appointed by the head of state. Sacking them was beyond Nalyvaychenko's powers, and therefore he had no real sway over his subordinates. The only department still remaining under his control was Counterintelligence.
In essence, Hrytsak and Artiukhov are the ones responsible for most of the corruption within the Security Service. Historically, it is the Anti-Corruption Department that provided cover for the biggest crimes in Ukraine, including illegal business, money laundering through conversion centers, contraband etc. Meanwhile the ATC is de-facto responsible for the contraband from the ATO zone (“zone of the Anti-Terrorist Operation”, the official term for the zone of armed conflict in the east of Ukraine, including the occupied territories – Ed.). All the trains with lumber, fuel tank trucks, trailers full of goods, images and videos of which we've seen so many times, they all belong to Vasyl Hrytsak's area of responsibility. As does the fact that the cases of passes to the ATO zone being simply purchased have become increasingly commonplace. At this point the necessary passing documents can be easily bought on the internet via middlemen. Yet this outrageous fact did not preclude the head of the ATC getting a promotion.
As one MP confessed off the record, if the MPs had any idea what sort of candidate was to be proposed as Nalyvaychenko's replacement, they wouldn't be as eager to vote for his dismissal. But the president kept cards close to his chest not naming the successor until much later.
The new SBU chief is a rather wealthy man. In his tax declaration Vasyl Hrytsak, whose entire career was in public service, specified that he owns a top of the line Toyota Land Cruiser costing close to UAH 1.5 million, as well as a Harley Davidson Sportster motorcycle worth UAH 330,000. That is with official annual income of only UAH 286,000, if the declaration is to be believed.
“How can an officer, who has been in civil service all his life and yet, according to the official declaration, owns half a dozen expensive vehicles, be appointed the head of SBU? The person, who headed the ATC throughout the entire year of defeats? The person, who conceived and continues advocating the system of passes through the front line – the new kind of large scale corruption?” – wrote the Samopomich faction MP Yehor Soboliev on his Facebook page.
By the way, the son of the new SBU Head Oleh Hrytsak also happens to be an interesting individual. The young man of 26 has been the deputy prosecutor of Kyiv's Solomyanskyi district for a number of years. At such a young age, however, the fellow already managed to tarnish his reputation rather considerably. Oleh Hrytsak was the state prosecutor against Auto-Maidan activists, who were arrested and beaten by the Berkut riot police during the Maidan in Kyiv in January 2014. Back then the court ruled to send the arrested protesters topretrial detention for two months. All of them, including a 70 year-old man.
The journalists of the Schemes weekly on UA:PERSHYI TV channel have been able to establish that Oleh Hrytsak together with his mother Olha Hrytsak back in 2008 registered a company called Olviya-1 specializing in meat trade, which profited from state procurement. In 2011 through 2012, during the Yanukovych regime the firm was very active in supplying frozen meat to government entities. According to the journalists, the state paid UAH 2.831 million to the Hrytsak family for frozen meat.
Vasyl Hrytsak's wife remains the chairman of Olviya-1 to this day. On top of that, her company shares its registration address and telephone with the company Mostobud ran by a former Party of Regions MP Volodymyr Prodyvus of Vinnytsia. Vasyl Hrytsak refused to comment on his family's business ties.
It is peculiar that MPs Serhiy Leshchenko and Mustafa Nayyem (Bloc of Petro Poroshenko – Ed.), who not so long ago used to excel in investigative journalism uncovering corruption cases, both suddenly decided to "overlook" all the glaring signs of corruption surrounding the new SBU chief, but at the same time were all over Nalyvaychenko's case, as soon as the latter fell into disfavor with President Poroshenko.
Interestingly, on his first week as the SBU Head Hrytsak got to business with noticeable enthusiasm. The Security Service immediately produced a number of press releases reporting about thwarted terrorist acts and detained terrorists. Additionally, SBU operatives took part in the odious arrest of Volodymyr Shapakin, the Deputy Head of Main Department of Prosecutor General's Office, and Deputy Prosecutor of Kyiv Oblast Oleksandr Korniyets, both of whom were caught taking a bribe (see. p. 4 for more details).
Having said that, there are concerns that such a flurry of activity by SBU may turn out little more than theatrics, designed to showcase the merits of the new SBU chief and prove that the president made the right choice. It resembles the way the current Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin took the office replacing Vitaliy Yarema. Almost immediately after his appointment followed the arrest of the Oleksandr Yefremov, one of the men behind the anti-Ukrainian insurgency in Luhansk. But with time it became clear that there was never an intention to get Yefremov locked up. Other individuals involved in scandalous criminal affairs were also allowed to escape. Those responsible for the massacre at the Maidan in Kyiv were never brought to responsibility either.
The contraband flows into the ATO zone that came into being during Vasyl Hrytsak's term in charge of the Anti-Terrorism Centre are yet to dry out. Just recently volunteer turned into Defence Ministry official Yuriy Biriukov reported on the astonishing scale of illegal trafficking on Facebook. And just like before, the passes into the ATO zone are being sold left and right. One can find them online or even through advertising posters in the streets. Therefore "drastic changes" is not the definition that can be applied to what transpires within the Security Service. In general the SBU's activity will, as per usual, depend on the outside pressure applied by the civil society. Without this pressure Ukraine's march towards reforms is way too slow and inefficient.